What Is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan is a carbohydrate structure that is derived from red edible Seaweed. The process to create Carrageenan from Seaweed involves combining it with an Alkali.
What confuses many is that Carrageenan has multiple spellings, but they are almost always the same ingredient. Examples of alternative spelling that is commonly seen include Carageenan, Carrageenan, and Carrigeenin.
One of the most crucial facts about Carrageenan is that it offers little to no nutrition, including a negligible portion of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
Also, Carrageenan does not offer any notable quantity of any required vitamins or minerals for dogs or cats.
While it is most commonly found in pet food recipes, Carrageenan can sometimes be found in human food as well.
Examples of products for human consumption that may contain Carrageenan include Ice Cream, Milkshakes, and other desserts.
Carrageenan In Dog Food
Carrageenan is most commonly used as an ingredient in canned, wet, or moist dog food as well as cat food.
Some research that we found would say that at one point in time, as much as seventy percent of commercially produced canned dog food included Carrageenan in varying quantities.
However, currently, this percent is estimated to be far lower, but it is still a significant proportion.
Carrageenan’s key purpose in dog food recipes is to act as a thickening agent to bind the ingredients together and to give the food a consistent texture and appearance.
Thickening agents are important components in canned pet food as if they are absent; this can cause the protein-rich ingredients present to become unappealing or to have an unpleasant texture.
Thickening agents can also be described as binding agents, emulsifiers, gelling agents, or stabilizers. While these terms mean slightly different things, it is safe to bundle them together when they are mentioned in relation to pet food as they are very similar.
Some alternative thickening agents or binding agents that are commonly found in pet food recipes include starches, like Potato Starch and Tapioca Starch, or gum-like ingredients, such as Xanthan Gum and Guar Gum.
Risks of Carrageenan
While opinions are mixed, some studies have shown that Carrageenan can cause several health problems in dogs, including Gastrointestinal Inflammation as well as increased rates of intestinal lesions, ulcerations, and in extreme cases, malignant tumors.
The malignant tumors are particularly concerning for dogs owners as these can be cancerous.
However, the cause of these health issues is a by-product that is produced from the Carrageenan production process known as poligeenan.
Poligeenan is the low-molecular form of Carrageenan, which can be harmful, and Poligeenan is the cause of the symptoms mentioned above.
The reason that some dogs experience these symptoms is due to an immune response that some dogs will inhibit after digesting Carrageenan. This immune reaction is the cause of the inflammation, and then sustained inflammation is then the cause of the more severe side effects.
However, Poligeenan is supposed to be separated and removed from the Carrageenan during production, but some believe this doesn’t always take place or isn’t 100% effective.
There are strong opinions by some pet food bloggers and enthusiasts that Carrageenan has no place in dog food and would go as far as to say that it should be banned.
One very strong example to support this sentiment is that Carrageenan has been banned for use in baby formula or baby food in the European Union which is often a world leader in identifying harmful substances.
While this ban was precautionary and not fully substantiated, it does give a strong suggestion that Carrageenan could be harmful.
Moreover, in 2016, the use of Carrageenan was banned in the United States for foods that are categorized as Organic. Many in the industry were disappointed at this decision and claimed that it would result in fewer organic options available for consumers.
Dog Food Brands That Use Carrageenan
You can see an example of this below where Carrageenan is featured in the ingredient list of Purina Pro Plan’s Classic Adult Complete Essentials Chicken & Rice Entree recipe.
However, as we eluded to earlier, Carrageenan’s use has seen some decrease in recent years as some brands have chosen to move away from it and use alternatives that are deemed safer or more “natural”.
Some brands have taken this to the extreme and have gone as far as to display or advertise that their products are Carrageenan-free.
If you wish to avoid Carrageenan or other thickening agents entirely, then it may be wise not to feed your dog canned or wet dog food.
While dry dog food is far from perfect, it does not require thickening agents such as Carrageenan and instead relies on vegetable ingredients like Legumes and Starches.